"I have to tell Emily’s story. Nothing else
matters." — Father Moore
It’s always a bit strange when a movie opens with the
“based on a true story” text, and yet at the end
of the credits it also has the “no relation to actual
person or events” tag. You’re not sure which to
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is all about belief. Do
you believe in demons? Do you believe that people can be possessed?
Do you believe that the supernatural can always be rationally
explained away? Do you believe that someone should be held accountable
by secular law if actions driven by faith leads to death?
When the movie opens, we follow a medical examiner to the
home of the Roses, where daughter Emily (Jennifer “White
Chicks” Carpenter) has died horribly in what appears
to be an exorcism gone wrong. Father Moore (Tom “Batman
Begins” Wilkinson), who performed the rite, is arrested
and charged with negligent homicide. The local diocese hires
defense lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura “The Truman Show”
Linney) to defend Father Moore and keep the Church from looking
bad. The potential conflict between those missions provides
part of the drama of the movie.
It doesn’t help that Erin, an agnostic who’s never
really thought about God, has personal demons of her own. She’s
clawing her way back to the top of the defense game. It’s
not really spelled out, but she had apparently lost her reputation
and only her recent successful defense of an alleged murderer
has her star on the rise again. Her boss says if she can win
an acquittal for Father Moore, she’ll make partner at
the firm. The only catch: She can’t let Father Moore testify.
Guess what Father Moore wants to do more than anything else.
Since we know at the beginning of the movie that Emily is
dead, the ensuing trial serves as a framing device to tell us
what exactly happened. We hear from her mother and father that
she was a good, devout girl who just won a scholarship to a
university to study . . . something that’s not
really explained. There she met a good boy named Jason (Joshua
“Undressed” Close), and while they weren't
a couple, they were good friends. It’s at the university
that Emily either develops psychotic epilepsy or is possessed
The events are shown to us first from Emily’s point
of view or as described by the eyewitnesses, then again as the
prosecutor lays out rational explanations for what seemed to
be supernatural events. It’s a pretty effective technique,
and gives the movie a feeling like The X-Files crossed
with Law and Order. However, the fact that we already
know Emily died tends to suck most of the scares out the flashbacks.
Instead of being afraid for Emily, you spend most of the movie
waiting for the mystery of “was she or wasn’t she”
to be resolved.
Most of the real scares come from the fact that, according
to Father Moore, by taking this case Erin has opened herself
up to demonic attack. Sure enough, she starts hearing and
seeing things at three a.m. (the demonic witching hour, also
according to Father Moore). She also has a crisis of faith in
her job when something you were kind of expecting happens with
an old client of hers. She then has to decide whether to let
Father Moore testify — whether to follow his wishes as
the defendant or those of her boss and the diocese.
Most of the effects are well done, and are mostly subtle.
Demonic faces appear in the clouds and in fog on windowpanes.
Emily’s eyes go all black and spooky, and her visions
are pretty intense.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose raises a lot of questions
about faith and the supernatural, and only mildly sensationalizes
the story. It’s fairly quiet and moody, with the most
intense scenes being the flashback of the exorcism itself. It
manages to walk the fine line of serious courtroom drama and
supernatural thriller. The main tension comes from the trial,
and you spend most of the movie waiting to see the verdict.
Will the jury believe that Emily was possessed? Will they send
Father Moore to jail for ten years?
It's is a good movie, with solid performances and a few great
scenes. I love that it stays ambiguous on the whole matter of
spirituality. However, it never really rises above the level
of interesting. It plays like and has the feeling of a TV movie,
not a really great film. It felt like something was missing.
I'd say wait for DVD or a showing on HBO, as I think it will
be much more effective on the small screen.